Please don’t let me forget what I saw today on TV. When time has passed, and the record books state simply that Tiger Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in a 19-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate, don’t let me forget just how far Tiger was pushed, and just how tough this win really was. Don’t let me forget that Tiger hadn’t played competitive golf in two months leading up to the Open, or that he played through the pain in his knee. Don’t let me forget all of the shots that made Tiger grimace in pain, or hobble, or wobble, or buckle. Don’t let me forget the miraculous shots Tiger made on Friday and Saturday to take the lead. The 60-foot eagle putt, the chip-in, the eagle on 18. Don’t let me forget the sight of Tiger bent over toward the beginning of his round on Sunday, appearing to be in so much pain that a mentally weaker player might have walked off the course. And don’t let me forget that he didn’t, and fought his way through the final round. Don’t let me forget that he still had to make a very tough 12-footer for birdie on 18 just to get in the playoff against Rocco.
But really, don’t let me forget about Rocco. Don’t let me forget his hat, covered in U.S. Open souvenir pins, or his players’ medallion, clipped to his sweater. Don’t let me forget that he stayed true to himself- always talking, joking, smiling, shrugging, flipping clubs in disbelief. Don’t let me forget that he gave everything he had on Sunday, and that he looked emotionally drained and physically spent after the round. That he said he knew Tiger would make his putt on 18, but his body language said he’d hoped Tiger would miss.
Don’t let me forget that Monday’s playoff appeared as if it were Tiger’s to win from the start. That Rocco said he was “running on fumes” prior to his round, and that the road appeared long and difficult when Tiger actually found the fairway on the first hole. Don’t let me forget that everything changed on the par 3 third, when Tiger plugged his tee shot in the front bunker and Rocco nearly aced it, leading to a two-shot swing. But don’t let me forget that Tiger was still Tiger, and came right back with a perfect approach and birdie on 6. Don’t let me forget Rocco’s approach that bounced off of two cart paths but still left him room to make a miraculous recovery. Don’t let me forget the short par putt that Rocco missed on 9, or the bogey on 10 that put him down three shots.
Don’t let me forget that the back nine on Monday was Rocco’s finest moment. Don’t let me forget that Rocco picked up two shots on 11 and 12, or that he birdied 13, 14, and 15. Don’t let me forget what happened on 15. That Rocco had just tied things up on 14, and then knocked his drive in the fairway. That Tiger drove his ball right into a bunker. That Rocco hit a great approach shot, and that Tiger hit an even better one. That up on the green Rocco said something to Tiger that actually made him laugh, which itself was quite an accomplishment given the circumstances. Don’t let me forget that just when Rocco could have let the round slip from his fingers, he made one of the greatest clutch putts I’ve seen. Don’t let me forget that Rocco held firm on 16 and 17, forcing Tiger to make a move on 18.
Don’t let me forget that one swing was the margin between winning and losing. Rocco pulled his drive into the bunker, and Tiger corked his right down the middle. Don’t let me forget that Rocco still had a 20-footer to win, but couldn’t get it to drop. Don’t let me forget that once the playoff went to sudden-death, it was finally, really over. Don’t let me forget that facing defeat, Rocco was still joking around with the rules officials, faking throwing his ball toward the green while he walked to the drop area on the 19th hole. Don’t let me forget that Tiger would have fought for 18 more holes to win the championship. Don’t let me forget that while he made the spectacular shots on Friday and Saturday, Tiger made all the crucial shots he needed on Sunday and Monday.
Don’t let me forget that Rocco pushed Tiger harder than anyone ever has, or that there is probably no other runner-up more deserving of winning the U.S. Open. While no one will forget that this might have been Tiger’s greatest win, please don’t let me forget that Rocco almost pulled off golf’s greatest win.